Back-to-School Spending — Fashion or Future?

By Julia Fitzgerald

High School

It’s back-to-school time again and all the major retailers — from electronics to apparel — are telling me that I have to run out and buy new outfits, backpacks and gadgets for my kids.

This year I’m hitting pause to put some thought to what is really going to make my daughter successful in 9th grade. Is it a new outfit?  More Converse Hi-Tops? How about some solid academic skills? Is it possible that lasting learning techniques could prove the most useful back-to-school asset?

Don’t get me wrong; everyone likes to look nice. And I was an active part of the retail machine that launches commercials suggesting that the stroll from the bus to the school is a virtual fashion catwalk.

According to Kantor, last year Walmart, Target and JC Penney alone spent more than $112 million advertising this back-to-school pseudo-event. And it works! According to the National Retail Federation, we moms will be persuaded to spend a projected $26.7 billion this year to send our darlings back to their K — 12 studies.


But that’s the irony. We aren’t being bombarded with messages encouraging us to help grow our kid’s skill sets or make up for summer learning loss. Nope. It’s a singular message to get a superhero lunchbox. Pronto. And while we’re at it, add some cute graphic tees and hoodies.

I wonder if there is any correlation between the number of outfits purchased and overall grade point average for a student. How about a correlation with increased critical thinking skills? Reading fluency or writing mastery? I think we know the answer.

So why do we moms flock like lemmings to the sea and spend millions on back-to-school clothes? Isn’t it time we hit “pause” to observe the emptiness when it comes to messages about building curious minds and prepping our kids for their futures — especially at back-to-school time? Where are all the commercials for music or math classes, drama or writing camps?

In fact, I’m not going to go along with it this year. I’m going to ask my kids to wear whatever is in their closets, on their floors and under their beds. And instead of shelling out dollars for fleeting fashions, make a timely investment in activities and programs to supplement their learning, accelerate their math and writing skills and up their confidence in the classroom.

What do you think? I welcome your thoughts on this fashion vs. future debate.